Napster Launches Business Model 3.0
In the past decade, Napster has worn many masks. It began life as a free, peer-to-peer service that brought you all the music you could take, quickly found itself a lawsuit target, then emerged from legal oblivion as a hubris-ridden iTunes Store competitor. And after years of mediocre results in those identities, it's relaunched itself yet again--now as a hubris-ridden Amazon competitor.
Although its earlier "Napster To Go" music-rental service lingers on (see my earlier dismissal of it), the store half of the site has ditched copy-restricted Windows Media downloads for a catalogue of 6 million MP3 files without any usage restrictions, that should work in any music program or player.
Napster, however, comes to the MP3-sale business well after such larger competitors as Amazon (perhaps you've heard of that store by now?), and its implementation seems to have some issues:
* Its Web site is slow to load and doesn't work in Apple's Safari browser. A company that's stumbled as often as Napster is in no position to turn away would-be customers!
* Its interface, apparently modeled after the Napster store's old and unlamented software, hides prices behind tool tips that appear if you float the cursor over or click on a little "MP3" icon next to a song or album.
* At 99 cents a track and $9.95 an album, those prices exceed Amazon's in many cases (here's my review of Amazon's MP3 store).
I can't say I'm in awe of this company's latest venture. And you? ("Napster who?" is a fair response to that question.)
May 21, 2008; 11:50 AM ET
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